by Elie A. Morrell, Shichidan

Photo courtesy of The correct study of judo involves the learning of a motor skill. The context in which the word “motor” is used here implies physical movement. Skill development involves precision, effectiveness, and efficiency of movement. Simply stated, judo is not an art involving the application of statics as far as throwing is concerned. Physical movement is inherent in judo, and mandatory for the most effective and efficient expenditure of physical energy. Students of judo should be taught movement from the very beginning of their judo career.

The Nage No Kata is one of the forms of judo which perhaps best exemplifies dynamic movement. Unfortunately, the principles associated with the Nage No Kata are understood by too few.

When considering most of the throws in judo, it becomes obvious that they can be accomplished from a static position, or zero tempo between the tori and the uke. Most players use the static stance in both randori and the shiai to execute throws. The reason for this is simple. Throws are generally easier to accomplish from the static position but the attacker must generate enough energy over and above that required to accomplish the same technique while both tori and uke are in motion.

The skill level required to execute a throwing technique from a static position is far less than that required to execute the same technique while in motion. Therefore, the tendency is to adopt an alternative requiring less skill but more effort. Throwing from the static stance does not necessarily mean that all required aspects of most techniques cannot be met.

We should recall one of the slogans put forth by Dr. Jigoro Kano when he summarized his teachings regarding judo. That slogan is “Seiryoku-Zen’yo,” which translates to “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort”. It becomes readily apparent that the goal is not met when throwing techniques are executed from a static stance.

If one observes two competitors during a judo match, invariably any attempt at a throwing technique is made in the static stance. True, both players are usually moving somewhat randomly but generally come to a halt just prior to the attack.

Perhaps the most important and difficult variable to master in a throwing technique is timing. This is because timing is directly related to movement. Of course knowing just when to attack even for the static stance is a matter of timing, but is far less complex than the attack situation involving motion.

With or without movement the requirement for the proper application of kuzushi, tsukuri, and kake remains. Only the level of effort to effect the throwing action is increased for the zero movement case.

Consider both players now in motion. I will introduce a term I will call the motion-direction line. During movement at any given instant, the players will be moving in some direction. If we were to consider a particular motion-direction line (i.e. directly forward or backward) it is evident that motion can exist in two directions for any motion-direction line. The question now arises as to how many motion-direction lines there are. Numerically, they approach infinity.

If both players are standing still, most motion-direction lines will lie in a circle. At the onset of movement, the players will move radially away from the static position point. There are specific cases that could be defined as circular movement from the static position. However, in the majority of random or planned movements, it is translation that usually takes place.

It’ should be borne in mind that the direction defined in our motion-direction line is direction of movement. It is not necessarily the direction in which the attacker ultimately throws the opponent.

One can now begin to appreciate the complexity involved in successfully throwing an opponent while both players are in motion. This is because throws can be made in so many directions by varying both the direction of movement and the direction of throwing.

Little wonder why players trade off movement and use extra energy to compensate for motion to bring about a throw.

One might ask why players move at all if in fact the two competitors only throw from a zero tempo condition. The two chief reasons are to avoid being penalized and optimizing throwing opportunity. Throwing opportunity means the position of the uke’s feet at the instant the attack is launched. Many players are not skillful enough to launch a successful attack for more than one condition of opportunity. The astute reader will notice that a new variable called “opportunity” is in fact part of the overall attack situation. Unfortunately, it cannot be totally ignored like movement can since the uke is going to be in some given position when the attack is launched. It, therefore, is just a question of whether that position is that one the attacker is skillful at launching attacks against.

The correct opportunity can occur from either induced action by tori or a voluntary action by the uke. For beginners and relatively inexperienced judoka, tori usually waits for a voluntary move by uke before attacking hoping uke will step into a desired position of opportunity.

When a coach introduces a throwing technique to his/her students, the demonstration should include the throw being done with motion as well as the static stance demonstration. Recognizing that all motion-direction lines cannot be covered in one class session, the coach should make verbal note of the other throwing opportunities and demonstrate other motion-direction lines at future class gatherings for the same throw. In any case, it is imperative that the students be subjected to the concept of motion when any throw is taught. If this is not done only problems await the student in the future.

Although perhaps not very obvious to many practitioners, there exists a limited number of throws whereby attacks must be made while in motion if success is to be achieved. These techniques are what we know as foot/leg sweeps. I refer to the harai or barai type of action.

In this type of technique, the leg being attacked has no weight on it at all. It can be advancing, retreating, moving sideways or even in some form of circular movement. Clearly then, the attacked leg has as a minimum some finite motion, but is not totally motionless.

When a leg sweep is property executed, contact with the leg to be swept will usually be made when that leg is in motion. Contact could be made anywhere from the onset of the trajectory the leg will follow to a point just before contact with the mat is made. If the leg of the uke is contacted just before the onset of motion, or immediately following placement on the mat, any resultant technique would not be classified as a foot/leg sweep. For example, the resultant technique following the failure at a leg/foot sweep would probably be either a reaping or a hooking type of action.

A sound understanding of the principles associated with the execution of foot sweeps will be of great benefit to the student when learning other throws where these principles are usually ignored by the use of static stance attacks.

Clearly, it is the responsibility of every coach to make sure that his/her students are taught and understand the principles associated with throws done while players are in motion.

True, contests can be won by throws made from the static stance and the execution of the throw can be letter perfect. If this is your philosophy for throwing then I refer you once again to Dr. Kano’s teachings and highly recommend studying and understanding the Nage No Kata. An appreciation and a sound understanding through the practise of the Nage No Kata will ultimately result in the increase of proficiency for the serious student.